Much ado about nothing?

Update 02 February 2006 @ 10:34: Militant Islamists surround EU office in Gaza.
Update 01 February 2006 @ 17:54: Leilouta commented briefly on this post. A much fiercer debate is currently played out on her own website.
Update 01 February 2006 @ 16:45: Der Spiegel captures some of my worries brilliantly, Threaten One, Intimidate a Million.
Update: Jyllands Posten’s main offices are currently evacuated due to a bomb threat.

Following the heated controversy spawned by eight satirical depictions of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper (Jyllands-Posten), I am appalled, angry, and disappointed, all at the same time.

Acknowledging the complexity of the situation, I shall not attempt to formulate a one-answer-fits-all argument, rather a series of related yet distinct observations will have to suffice:

I do not believe in any such thing as Truth or Essence whether it may go under the label of religion or science, that is to say, nothing holds universal privilege, and the word ‘blasphemy’ does not hold any credit in my vocabulary. I do, however, respect that different people hold different values, and that these may be rooted at various levels and based on assumptions that may appear strange (e.g. see my postings below).

Taking this into account, freedom of speech should be applied reflexively and with respect. This in a way that cannot be systematised nor legitimised according to abstract principles, although philosophers and a heterogeneous pool of polemists have tried to do so for thousands of years.

Personally I cannot think of any symbols which, when treated with ‘disrespect’, as in the case with Jyllands-Posten, would cause outrage to the extent witnessed in the current matter, but I do believe that one should not deliberately cause havoc, for whatever ‘legitimate’ reason, by disregarding (for lack of better word) what other people hold dear. This principle works both ways and is intrinsically paradoxical; I would literally fight for my rights and convictions, which are sort of compatible with ‘Danish’ values (most sociologists would kill me for assuming such a thing), if they were ever to be threatened by other totalitarian knowledge systems.

That said, I can only laugh when a country such as Saudi Arabia, notorious for its brutality and systematic suppression of minorities, dares to criticise Denmark for not paying respect to Islamic values (who’s values?). And Libya, and Iran, and…

I can only laugh, admittedly worried laughter, when so-called Islamist hackers shut down newspaper sites and blogs of people with whom they disagree in order to forcefully impose their own ‘information’.

I can only get worried when a militant group encourages Muslims (I wonder what sort of Muslims they have in mind) to strike against everything Danish and Norwegian, attributing the ‘wrongdoings’ of a newspaper to a whole nation and its people.

I wonder why the head a prominent imam of the Muslim Society in Denmark, Abu Laban, has not bothered to learn the language, and thus have to be interviewed in English every time he makes a media appearance.

I recognise that what may appear as crowds of Palestinian fundamentalists burning Danish flags and images of the Danish PM may in fact be the reaction of people who have not had the privilege to experience a separation between the government and the press. Faced with such tension, we should avoid the propensity to read deeper motives into spontaneous acts.

Yet I am worried because, more and more often, I find myself drifting to the right side of the political spectrum when thinking about issues as the one above. I tend to agree with people with whom I used to have nothing in common. I no longer know which foot to stand one when neither apologetic nor right wing responses seem to lay the foundation for a fruitful path.

Check how the story unfolds at Google News.

Does anyone have anything to contribute?

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“While we … while we were coming downstairs, it’s so funny, some people were even smoking in the stairs, standing in those, you know, rest areas people were smoking because some of the rumors before the plane hit our building, the rumor was there that the security guards there they were spreading those rumors, Oh, just a small plane hit the next building. Don’t worry. Everybody just do their normal work, or whatever. And some people, to relax, I guess, they were brokers or something; I couldn’t tell, they wanted to go back to work.”

Pakistani male, age 27, working in the WTC, 46th floor.

Take a minute to commemorate the thousands of people whose lives fell prey to one of the most atrocious acts of our time. Many stories need to be told and never forgotten. The 9/11 Digital Archive has collected a few.

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